Belgrade — Lucija Rajner last saw her father, Vladislav, on Nov. 14, 1941, through a barbed-wire fence at a concentration camp in Belgrade.
That autumn, Rajner and her mother passed food, letters and bedding to him, until a guard told them he wouldn’t need such supplies anymore. Rajner never learned his fate, but assumes he died the same way as 6,000 other Jews and 1,500 Roma who passed through the camp - gunned down or gassed en masse.
The cluster of warehouses that formed the camp known as Topovske Supe still stands; rubbish litters the floors and graffiti scars the walls.
A small plaque is all that marks the location’s dark history. It was screwed to a crumbling brick wall in 2006, when most of the land had already been sold for 27 million euros ($35 million) to a retail tycoon who plans to spend 160 million euros to turn it into the biggest shopping mall in the Balkans.
Rajner and a small group of historians and activists say the destruction of Topovske Supe is emblematic of how far Serbia still has to go in recognising the Holocaust on its soil.
“I don’t know why the state shows this kind of disrespect to things which should not be forgotten,” said 79-year-old Rajner.
In a region dotted with memorials to Partisan battle victories, the 70,000 Jews who died in Yugoslavia during World War Two were subsumed into the narrative of Yugoslav victims of fascism, part of the doctrine of ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ propagated by Josip Broz Tito to diminish national and ethnic differences within the federation he ruled from 1945 to 1980.
After Estonia, Serbia was the second Nazi-occupied territory in Europe to be formally declared ‘free of Jews’ in August 1942, when 90 percent of the country’s 16,000 Jews had perished.
With Tito’s death, unity gave way to the virulent nationalism that would eventually tear Yugoslavia apart, and Serbia began stressing the suffering of Serbs at the hands of Nazi puppet rulers in Croatia.